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U.S., Japanese Bishops Launch Push for Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

A group of five bishops pose with a new declaration of their commitment to continue advocating for nuclear disarmament worldwide. From left to right: Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, Archbishop Peter Michiaki Nakamura of Nagasaki, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, Archbishop Paul Etienne of Seattle, and Bishop Alexis Mitsuru Shirahama of Hiroshima. (Photo: Archdiocese of Santa Fe.)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS —  On the 78th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, a cohort of Japanese and U.S. Catholic bishops announced a new initiative to promote the realization of a world without nuclear weapons, focusing on past acts, the present reality, and building a culture of peace.

“We, the bishops of four Catholic arch/dioceses in areas impacted by nuclear weapons, declare that we will begin working together to achieve a ‘world without nuclear weapons,’” the bishops said. “We urge that concrete progress be made by August 2025, the 80th anniversary of the atomic bombings.”

The group consists of American Archbishops John Wester of Santa Fe and Paul Etienne of Seattle — who both lead an archdiocese with ties to the production and deployment of nuclear weapons. It also consists of Japanese Archbishop Peter Michiaki Nakamura of Nagasaki, Bishop Alexis Mitsuru Shurahama of Hiroshima, and Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, who lead the Japanese dioceses the U.S. bombed on August 6 and August 9, 1945, respectively.

The announcement came amid a “pilgrimage of peace” to Japan led by Archbishops Wester and Etienne, who were accompanied by organizations and archdiocesan officials dedicated to nuclear disarmament advocacy.

Announcing the new initiative, the group of bishops condemned the possession of nuclear weapons as immoral. They also outlined three areas of focus for their arch/dioceses as part of the initiative, and invited other dioceses and religious traditions to join them in these efforts.

The three areas are: To remember, To walk together and To protect.

“We … call on our priests, religious, and lay people to participate actively in this partnership, and we ask for the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace,” the bishops said. “That road to peace is difficult — we cannot travel it alone.”

To remember, the bishops said that they intend to listen to and create dialogue with people on both sides of the issue. That includes victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, uranium miners, peace activists, nuclear engineers, military personnel and diplomats.

To walk together, the bishops said that they will offer Mass at least once a year with a special intention for a world without nuclear weapons, and periodically call for a special collection to support nuclear victims and restore the environments the weapons have destroyed.

And finally, to protect, the bishops said they will continue advocacy for countries to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, of which has been signed by none of the Group of Seven countries, which includes the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Included in the initiative announcement but separate from the initiative itself, the bishop echoed a call they made in May to leaders of G7 countries  to take concrete steps towards the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Of those countries, the U.S. has far and away the most nuclear warheads with 5,244 as of 2022, according to data published in March by the Federation of American Scientists. That is second only to Russia, which has an arsenal of 5,899 nuclear warheads, the data shows.

Third on the list is China with 410 nuclear warheads, followed by G7 countries France and the United Kingdom with 290 and 225 nuclear warheads, respectively. After that there’s Pakistan with 170, and India with 164. No other country has an arsenal of more than 90 nuclear warheads, the data shows.

The concrete steps the group of bishops outlines for the G7 countries includes the aforementioned support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was first signed by the Vatican, as well as an acknowledgment  of the long-lasting suffering caused by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, and the environmental impacts of the uranium mining research and production of nuclear weapons.

Archbishop Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo told The Tablet he’s grateful for the advocacy provided by the American bishops.

“We, in Japan, are happy to have bishops and friends from the U.S. to speak against nuclear weapons and call for their abolition, as the U.S. is the one of the biggest holders of these destructive weapons,” Archbishop Kikuchi said. “There have to be voices from the side of victims calling for peace, but there should also be voices from the side of those who have potential to use nuclear weapons.”

“We are happy that those from the U.S., especially some of the bishops, had courage to call for abolition of nuclear weapons,” he said.

“We have to try to prove through our own action within the Church all over the world that dialogue is the only way for solidarity and trust,” Archbishop Kikuchi said. “That is promoting synodality. A synodal Church would be a model for the world of the Peace of God.”

Nirmala Carvalho in Mumbai contributed to this report.


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